Kuroita Katsumi (1874–1946) became a leader of the “second generation” of Tokyo Imperial University historians who came of age during the 1890s and dominated the historical profession through the rise of imperialism, militarism, and the war (4, 5). Kuroita may not be immediately familiar to students of Japanese history and culture, but many have consulted one or another volume of Kuroita’s massive primary source collection, Kokushi taikei: Nihon kiryaku zenpen (1929–1936), or the massive edition of academic essays Iwanami kōza Nihon rekishi (1933–1935). They are standard resources. Yoshikawa argues—contrary to both the “second generation’s” postwar institutional heirs and Marxists—that these “second generation” historians were neither an insignificant group to those outside of academia nor “academically inconsequential government lackeys” (8). Rather, they were independent, proactive, “devoted to the examination of the past,” and “in tune with the imperial state’s visions” (8). Under Kuroita’s leadership, historical scholarship in Japan “evolved” under the conditions of a new alliance between historians and the state (18). Yoshikawa thus discerns “the patterns” in Kuroita’s work, “how his various enterprises made sense as a whole,” and how they evolved “with political shrewdness” between the 1890s and 1930s (18). The author celebrates Kuroita’s life as “represent[ing] the intersection between modern nation building and scholarship” (262). This is an underwhelming thesis, particularly because, thematically and chronologically, the book follows the more sophisticated and insightful work of Stefan Tanaka, Japan’s Orient: Rendering Pasts into History (1993), and of Margaret Mehl, History and the State in Nineteenth-Century Japan (1998). By comparison, this book reads as if it is an effort to rehabilitate Kuroita, for example, for his assemblage of a Japanese manuscript collection on behalf of the Yale Association of Japan in 1934, now held at Yale University (223–225). Nonetheless, the book is extensively researched and full of details—an integration of scholarly biography and projects of national history. Kuroita came to public acclaim with a popular travelogue of his trip to the U.S. and Europe in 1908–1910. Yoshikawa argues that Kuroita’s fame encouraged greater public attention for the work of historians, as Kuroita promoted the creation of national historical sites (132–149) and national heroes (150–162) in order to assist the state in molding a Japanese people for the imperial project. Readers will find informative Yoshikawa’s accounts of Kuroita’s publication projects, his engagement with archaeology and non-textual sources, and his role in both establishing national regulations to preserve national sites and historical monuments, and participating in the preservation of significant temples, shrines, and sites. Central to Kuroita’s career was his determination to foreground “the age of the gods” in Japanese history; this and other historiographical decisions were challenged during the “Taishō democracy” of the 1920s and within its growing but soon curtailed public sphere (184–198). One interesting episode treats Kuroita’s managing of questions in the famous Southern and Northern dynasties controversy of 1911, which concerned the legitimacy of rival branches of the Imperial house (115–121). Kuroita used his authority in the dispute to good advantage, producing public lectures and articles that emphasized the role of history in the moral education of Japan’s children. However, in spite—or perhaps because—of its thick description and overwhelming detail, the book is short on critical acumen. This story of complicity between leading historians and the state is a familiar one, extending back to Rome and Han China in antiquity. Missing here is some analysis of Kuroita’s conformism, collusion, and opportunism. Some critique could have been easily accomplished, as Yoshikawa notes the state funding and support for Kuroita’s many scholarly projects. She includes a revealing table, for example (211), that lists the official positions in government and academy to which Kuroita’s students rose. Hence, the author’s objectivity, so to speak, effectively endorses Japanese nationalism and all the suffering that it spawned. Consider the following celebratory remark: “These historians [including Kuroita and two of his students] finally fulfilled their elusive manifest destiny from the mid-nineteenth century—they became architects of the nation and the empire, and remained so throughout the Asia-Pacific wars” (199). “Manifest destiny” is Yoshikawa’s maladroit translation for hakkō ichiu, the goal of “spreading Japanese national essence to the world” (242). Kuroita was no mere “government lackey”; Yoshikawa shows that he was an active promoter of nationalism, militarism, and imperialism. In Japanese-colonized Korea, Kuroita endorsed the aggressive assimilation of Koreans; he served the Japanese colonial administration on a commission to produce a controversial Korean history tailored to Japanese sensibilities (162–172). This reader was startled that Yoshikawa foreclosed so much so early in the book: “We will likely never know why Kuroita … chose to ally himself with the government’s political position on the Japanese past—out of agreement, to advance his career, for some other reason, or on all these grounds” (57). In the face of so little effort to analyze and explain, the book describes and celebrates nationalism—including its imperialism and colonizations. Indeed, we will likely never know. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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